Opinions on P Chidambaram’s Singapore lecture
Palaniappan Chidambaram is perhaps the only saving grace of India’s Congress-led coalition government. Both in style and substance, his speech at a seminar in Singapore yesterday was just what would have been expected from the finance minister of an emerging economic giant — head poking into the clouds, while feet firmly planted on hard ground.
His most significant policy pronouncements were unequivocal stands on economic growth and globalisation as the twin formulae for human development and poverty alleviation.
The question and answer session brought out some of the best in Chidambaram. To a question on what an individual could do to play a role in India’s development, his reply was quick and direct. “Create wealth”, he said.
His faith in liberal democracy clearly stood out when he answered a question on strikes. He replied, to applause, that he did not like strikes. He added, to further applause, that he did not like banning strikes either. The goal he said, is to create conditions such that workers see reasons not to go on strike.
But his response to the influence of the Left on the UPA government’s economic policies was less convincing. The concerns of the Left, he said, are also the concerns of the Congress party and all other ‘secular’ parties — healthcare, education and poverty reduction — as if non-‘secular’ parties were immune from such lofty ambitions. The point he did not care to address was how much the Congress party’s uneasy alliance with the Communists was stalling the very things like growth and globalisation that Chidambaram holds dear.
But blaming the Left as an ideological force in Indian politics is rather simplistic, not least because India’s ideological Right suffers not only suffers from a lack of confidence, but also finds its economics hostage to its politics. While the pernicious role of the loony Left has been much documented, derided and lamented, the failure of the BJP to provide an alternative model has hardly been criticised. In the end, the blame for choking India’s economic growth cannot but be blamed on the BJP, whose failure as opposition may even outweigh its success in government.